Green Party: £400,000, 335 candidates – and one MP?

It's Brighton Pavilion or Bust today for the Green Party, who appear to have their best-ever chance of a Westminster seat with the candidature of their leader, Caroline Lucas, in the Sussex seaside resort.

After 30 years in the Parliamentary wilderness, but growing local influence around the country, the Greens have mounted their biggest-ever general election campaign this year with candidates in 335 constituencies, at a total cost of just under £400,000 – small beer compared to the main party election budgets, perhaps, but a big sum for a party with fewer than 10,000 members.

They are concentrating their efforts on just three seats they think are winnable, with Norwich South and Lewisham Deptford joining Brighton Pavilion in their sights. In Norwich South, the party's deputy leader, Adrian Ramsay, is standing against the former Labour cabinet minister (and leading critic of Gordon Brown) Charles Clarke. The Greens have 13 councillors in Norwich, making them the official opposition, and came first in the city in last year's Euro elections.

In Lewisham Deptford they will field Darren Johnson, councillor and chair of the London Assembly, against Joan Ruddock, the minister for Energy and Climate Change; they have six Green councillors in Lewisham and in recent local elections polled 27 per cent.

But Labour-held Brighton Pavilion, the seat at the bohemian heart of what is perhaps Britain's most "alternative" city, is their best chance of all, where Ms Lucas has been the bookmakers' odds-on favourite all of this year, and remains so this morning, at 8-11.

You can see why. The former Oxfam adviser has reformed her party, getting rid of the wacky tendencies which once made it a political joke, broadened its policy base, and is herself a formidable and assured political operator, having been MEP for South-East England since 1999. Furthermore, the popular local Labour MP, David Lepper, whose opposition to the Iraq war helped his re-election last time round, is standing down.

But Ms Lucas's success is by no means assured: the big question in Pavilion is, what effect has the Clegg surge had? The nightmare for the Greens is that the renewed support for the Liberal Democrats will split their vote and let in Ms Lucas's principal rival, now the Conservative candidate, Charlotte Vere, a former banker who is chief executive of an online support network for the emotionally troubled. A poll of voting intentions carried out in January by ICM Research showed the Greens holding an eight-point lead over the Tories, with the Greens on 35 per cent, the Tories on 27, Labour on 25 and the Liberal Democrats on 11 per cent.

The Greens' influence is steadily growing around the country, and they now have 126 councillors on 43 "principal authorities" in England and Wales (ie, not including parish councils). But despite that, Britain remains the only major European country which has never had Greens in its national legislature and if Caroline Lucas were elected it would be seen as a breakthrough. Ms Lucas said yesterday that she tops the poll she will hold an immediate "open access surgery" on the streets of Brighton tomorrow.

"We'll go out and about there and then, on the Friday afternoon, for people to raise concerns they have," she said. "We'll be trying to demonstrate that one of the ways we can rebuild trust in MPs is by listening to people and letting them know we are driven by their concerns."

THE POLICIES

Taxation

The Greens want to "rehabilitate progressive taxation" – bring back higher taxation on higher incomes. They will raise taxation from 36 per cent of GDP in 2009-10 to 45 per cent in 2013.

Reducing inequality

The Greens would impose a permanent tax on bankers' bonuses, and a higher rate of income tax of 50 per cent on incomes over £100,000.

Climate change and energy

The party aims to obtain half of Britain's energy from renewable resources by 2020, and ensure that carbon emissions from power generation are zero by 2030.

Transport

Speed limits would be 20mph in towns, 40mph on rural roads and 55mph on motorways. They would end the £30bn roads programme and reinvest it in public transport.

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